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Nation States and Great-power Rivalry in the Middle East: from World War I to the Cold War


Admission requirements

Admission to an MA programme at Leiden University. An ability to handle original (primary) materials in a relevant language other than English is required. This can be Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish or Persian, but also French, German or Italian.


The course looks at the way the great powers of Europe (and later the USA) have interacted with the nation states of the Middle East in the Twentieth Century. The story starts with the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after it had become involved in World War I as a partner of one European power, Germany. It will then look at the period when large parts of the Middle East were run by France and Britain as “mandates” and the position of the Middle East in World War II. Finally, the pivotal role of the Middle East in the Cold War between the superpowers will be considered. The Middle East will not just be presented as a playground for the great powers. The way communities and states in the area manipulated the powers to attain their ends will be equally important. The relationships can be envisaged as quadrilinear: between the great powers, between each of the great powers and their respective local clients and between the states of the region. All sides of this quadrangle will receive attention.


Achieving an understanding of the dynamics of the interaction between nation-states and external powers in the Middle East in the 20th century. Acquiring the ability to use this understanding to tackle a specific research question in this field and answer it cogently and persuasively, with reference to the state of the art of the literature and making use of primary source materials.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and participation are obligatory. Classes missed for a good reason (to the discretion of the conveners and to be discussed BEFORE the class takes place) will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower or failing grade for the course.

Course Load

Total course load is 280 hours, of which 26 hours are contact hours. Preparation for the weekly class is 6 hours on average for a total of 78 hours. Independent reading is 124 hours and the writing of the term paper 60 hours.

Assessment method

Assessment on the basis of presentation and participation in class (50%) and two term papers (25% each = 50%).

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher. Students receiving an overall grade of 5.49 (=5) or lower, will be allowed to rewrite a longer term paper to replace the two shorter papers (50%). If students take this option, they must choose an alternative topic. They will not be permitted to resubmit a(n extended version of) one of the smaller papers. The deadline for this version will be determined in consultation.

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.



Reading list

We will work on the basis of a reading list put on Blackboard.


All students are required to register through uSis before August/January 15. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Studeren à la carte nor Contractonderwijs is possible for this course.


Prof. dr. E.J. Zürcher


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accomodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).